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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Septation: An Eye-Witness (Re)Composition of the September 11 Attacks

  • Author(s): Weinstein, Joshua I.
  • Advisor(s): Borgo, David
  • et al.

The events of September 11, 2001, are now as iconic as the World Trade Center Towers themselves. Even in the moment, those of us present during the attacks knew that what we were seeing was important, seminal, and historic. They also represent the type of "single-blow" trauma that is most difficult for victims to effectively process, leaving them "stuck" in the moment of attack.

'Septation,' a five-movement multimedia work for eleven instruments with prerecorded audio and video, is an artistic revisiting of my own experience of the September 11 attacks. The piece is designed to convey such emotional elements of the lived experience as constriction and claustrophobia, disorientation, surprise, powerlessness, felt terror, transformation, and lost innocence. 'Septation' achieves this through a combination of fully composed music; guided solo and ensemble improvisation (involving a variety of pitch, noise and conceptual resources); prepared, spatialized and processed instruments; found-sound audio; and symbolic video elements.

In addition to a detailed exploration of the compositional strategies employed in 'Septation,' the thesis argues that the public record of an event of explicit terrorism must convey felt terror and other emotional elements of the lived experience to be complete. Further, it argues that, for a variety of reasons, the nexus of composed and improvised music may be best suited to this task. In composing and presenting 'Septation,' I exorcised some of the lingering demons of this single-blow event in ways that I hope can provide a compelling example for other victims of single-blow trauma.

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